The Canadian Press has awarded Canadian tennis player Leylah Fernandez the distinction as its female athlete of the year. The title of Female Athlete of the Year also bestows upon Fernandez, who made it to the 2021 U.S. Open final, the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award.
Leylah Fernandez earned the distinction after her run and performance at the U.S. Open finals last year. After falling short of winning her Grand Slam title, the speech given at its conclusion saw crowds at the Arthur Ashe Stadium give her a standing ovation. It was a moment that, like her performance in the final, displayed her maturity and eloquence.
The 2021 season was a break out year for the Montreal native. Along with her performance being a highlight on the women’s tour, Leylah Fernandez won her first WTA title and saw her ranking improve from 73rd to 25 after the U.S. Open.
“I was very, very proud of myself, how I was able to be composed and how I was able to step up in those important moments so I could get through the finish line.”
Along the way, Fernandez won over crowds and saw many cheering her on as if she was a hometown favourite. Unfortunately, the finals, which were held on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, did not end as she had hoped. After her speech and before the trophy ceremony, Fernandez requested to address the crowds again.
“I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States. I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years. Thank you for always having my back, thank you for cheering for me. I love you New York and hope to see you next year.”
The year was especially productive for Fernandez, who began the season ranked 88th. Along with her final appearance at the U.S. Open, she won the Monterrey Open and was instrumental in helping Canada defeat Serbia during the playoffs at the Billie Jean King Cup in April.
The race for the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award was close this year, with Fernandez earning 12 out of 45 votes, while swimmers Maggie Mac Neil and Penny Oleksiak each received ten from broadcasters, editors and writers across Canada.
Tennis Canada president Michael Downey stated the award will be “one of many she wins”.
“We just are so proud of this young woman, both for what she did on court but also what she does off court because her speech after she lost the (US Open) final was one for the ages. We’re just so proud of her.”
Fernandez, who now calls Boynton Beach, Florida home, became the third tennis player to win the Female Athlete of the Year award in the last ten years. The last was Bianca Andreescu who won the award 2019 and Eugenie Bouchard won the distinction in 2013 and 2014.
One of the editors casting a vote, managing editor of the Kelowna Daily Courier, David Trifunov, called Fernandez’s performance at the Open, “nothing short of remarkable.”
“Leylah’s run through what is arguably the most difficult of the tennis majors — the US Open — was nothing short of remarkable,” Her surgical cuts through the field of former champions and world No. 1s – all with what’s becoming her trademark dimpled smile — is precisely the tonic Canadian sports fans needed in a pandemic.”
Fernandez, who ended the 2021 season with a 25-17 record, also saw her prize money on the tour jump to US$1.77 million, now joins the ranks of other top Canadian athletes like soccer player Christine Sinclair.
“I’m very honoured to be amongst these athletes who’ve done so much for women’s sports, and their respective sports, and even outside of their sports. Growing up, I’ve read about (Sinclair) in the news. I’ve seen how much she’s accomplished and I’m honoured to have my name right beside hers.”
The Canadian Press have yet to announce the winner of the Male of the Year Athlete and Lionel Conacher Award. This announcement is expected on Wednesday, as will the announcing of the winner of the Team of the Year.